‘Maybe they won’t like us’

Our recent visit to Michell in the UK.

By Mike Blake. 

We are on our way. Quietly the clattering of train on tracks beats to its own rhythm. 
Steve Rowland has kindly offered to pick up Lorraine and I at the train station.
 I’m not sure what to expect and a sense of nervousness at meeting the family behind the iconic and evergreen turntable manufacturer, Michell Engineering.
The train stops at Stevenage and we debate walking to Michell or taking a taxi. Thankfully we go by taxi as the walk was not quite as short as I thought it might be. Lorraine asks me if we might have lunch with our business associates of the last 12 years.

“Well”, I say, “let’s see. Maybe they won’t like us.”

The taxi finally finds the Michell Engineering factory nestled in the corner of a modern and clean mini-factory development. The understated sign above the roller door simply states, Michell Engineering. A blue building, nicely neat.
We’re welcomed in by Steve, who asks us why we didn’t phone for the lift he offered. “I didn’t want to inconvenience you”, is my simple answer. The entrance is small, neat and filled with memorabilia. Immediately I know I’m in a comfort zone.

TOP: The Michell family with Michael Blake.  ABOVE: Arrival!!!  BELOW: Famous Michell turntable owners along a passage wall.

Steve takes us upstairs where we’re introduced to his delightful family. We chat and relax and I’m feeling comfortable. Steve takes us on a tour of all things Michell - new projects, old projects and projects on hold. 
We are treated to listening to the new and exciting Michell Cusis cartridges. The Cusis E (elliptical stylus), S (Shibata stylus), and M (ultra-precise Microline stylus). Beautiful music. All are exciting, clean, dynamic and fast - going up the range comes with worthwhile gains. 
The coil assembly under the cartridge is visible. Precision workmanship. I like this.

 The entrance at Michell Engineering. 

Steve Rowland. We are listening to the new Cusis cartridge. Beautiful! 

Coming soon. The Michell stand.

Steve and Julie treat us to a lovely lunch. We chat and discuss much of life and of Michell past, present and future. South Africa, England, sun and rain. It’s easy and we are really comfortable. Back at the factory Steve’s parents arrive. Again it’s easy to chat, which we do for some time. 
I could adopt this family, I think to myself. A real family business and an atmosphere devoid of stress

Turntables are being assembled and tested without fuss in the background. No mad rush but an orderly relaxed production of a quality product given quality time. It’s time to leave. We say our goodbyes and Steve drives us to the station. He asks us to try and visit again before we leave for South Africa. It’s a real question and not the casual “See you around” throw away statement. I want to come back and enjoy the atmosphere, the friendship and the kindness again.
We’re on the train. It’s quieter. Lorraine and I discuss our schedule and return visit. Let’s try squeeze it in.

I’m left thinking of Bev and Julie’s father, John. We were at Michell on the anniversary of John Michell’s death.

I reflect on this small family business with a giant heritage. Fathered by a man of genius. An icon of the audio industry.

He changed my life when I was a teenager looking at the Gyrodec wondering if I could ever own one.
Now, I am the proud importer of Michell products into South Africa. This is not a faceless mass produced turntable. It is a beautiful sounding evergreen turntable, tonearm and now cartridge to be kept and treasured, not only because of its gorgeous sound and looks, but because it comes with a heritage that is earned with time reserved for the most innovative and successful in the industry. It’s a heritage that comes from the small guy with the big vision, having the insight, creativity and knowledge to rise above his peers and create a timeless work of art. 

What a wonderful experience!
Rest In Peace, John Michell. Your family have done you proud.

BELOW: Legend, inventor and gentleman, John Michell doing what he did best. He was friends with and a work colleague of Stanley Kubrick.  

Steve Jobs with his Michell turntable.

Michell’s 'memory lane'

DURBAN BRANCH NOW AT STUDIO ONE, COWIES HILL, TEL: 031-701 5019

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